Sunday, October 9, 2011

Low Carb Diet Disaster

Many of us can trace our love for carbs right back to the holiday meals.  From the breaded stuffing to the creamy green bean casserole to the sweet potatoes covered in marshmallows to the mounds of buttery dinner rolls, each dish outdid the next in a serious attempt at getting us almost immobile. The holiday meal was a text-book case for carb-loading; a meal any marathoner would be happy to eat.  But, we went from the table to the couch, rarely burning off any of the carbs we ingested.  When did all this over-indulgence happen?

Don't Blame Norman Rockwell

The image of a plentiful holiday meal might bring the iconic image given to us by Norman Rockwell to mind.  But, look again at this image entitled “Freedom From Want.”  What do you see on the table?  Well, first you notice the turkey.  If you look closely, you'll notice the turkey is huge, and in fact, Grandma is probably struggling trying to hold it up like that. The bird in that picture probably weighs about twenty to twenty five pounds. Take a look at that picture one more time. That turkey is almost as big as Grandma!

But, what else do you notice about that picture.  Look at the table.  It's not crammed with creamy casseroles, piles of sweet potatoes, corn oyster bakes, or cheesy macaroni. You would probably find the mashed potatoes in the covered casserole, but that's a bare minimum compared to today's holiday spread. Yes, it appears the masterpiece, the star of the table, was most definitely the turkey.  You'll see a few celery sticks, pickles, cranberry sauce, and some fruit on the table. So, Norman Rockwell depicted a typical holiday table during World War II as a huge, protein packed, low carb feast. 

So, when did things turn to the carb-fest we have today?  We can't exactly be sure, but with many changes in consumerism, we can trace a 'boom' in consuming to post World War II.  Families grew, and right along with the growth of families came a growth of meals.  Kitchens were becoming more modern and cooking was becoming easier.  More prepackaged foods became available.  The post World War II home meant Mom in the kitchen cooking big meals for a big family.  The holiday table grew along with the family.

We went from a high protein holiday meal, featuring a lean, nutritious bird, with a few sides straight from the garden, to a meal of shrinking protein and increasing carbohydrates in the form of creamy, sugary vegetables and fruits.  In lieu of a serving of baked sweet potatoes, we laced them with sugar, maple syrup, and a marshmallow topping.  Our blanched green beans turned into a canned soup and french fried onion delight.  Our tastes changed, and so did our expectations. 

Over the years, we have developed a litany of side dishes that have taken center stage, or table, in place of the turkey.  As we complain about our expanding waists, we dream of those beautiful holiday tables.  Oh, yes, the holiday meal is our most guilty pleasure – and we hate to love it, but we do so love it.  So, now what?  How can we get back to the Norman Rockwell table, rich in protein and healthy carbs?

Go Back to the Farm

It's often said that in order to eat healthy, shop the perimeters of the grocery store.  Stick to the produce and protein and you can't go wrong.  The trouble starts when you move into the center of the store where you'll find the packaged, processed foods.  Take that one step further and I say stick to the farm.

If you want to go back to the table that Norman Rockwell depicted in his holiday meal painting, you'll need to think only of what is produced on the farm.  Whether it's grown in the garden or the pens, hunted or fished, the closer you eat to what is in and of the earth, the healthier your diet will be.  Eating low carb usually means eating whole foods in a state closest to natural.  In other words, unprocessed or lightly processed foods are best.  Even foods that aren't necessarily considered low carb, such as bread, can be enjoyed in small quantities if it is mostly made of whole, unprocessed grains.

Plentiful protein is another basis for a low carb diet.  That is not to say that you should eat only protein or mostly protein.  A low carb diet requires a good amount of fiber-rich vegetables, but protein is considered essential as well.  As a matter of fact, protein, and the fats that are naturally occurring in protein sources are not only necessary to feel full, but are also necessary for overall health.

When families relied on the farm for their food supply, it was not uncommon to have two or three chickens, ducks, geese, or turkeys on the table for a large meal.  The meal was then rounded out with a nice supply of vegetables, greens, fruits, or berries from the gardens and surrounding grounds.  But creamy casserole style concoctions were not common.  Instead, cream, butter, and cheese were saved for special touches, like desserts.

Look at your holiday menu this year.  Are you relying too heavily on the traditions handed down from our post World War II atmosphere of bigger is better when it comes to the family meal?  Are your favorite carb-rich dishes going to ruin your efforts at dieting this holiday season?  You won't miss your traditional dishes if you replace them with plenty of good, wholesome, flavorful foods.  Take a look at the smiling faces gathered around the table that Norman Rockwell drew and ask yourself if those folks look deprived.  Make this the holiday season you finally stick to your diet and feel great about doing it.

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